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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Outcome Results on Ablation versus Surgery for HCC: A Report from the SEER Registry


The comparative efficacy of percutaneous ablation versus surgical resection for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains a controversial topic, with conflicting literature reporting equivalent outcomes between modalities or superior outcomes with surgery. This study by Mironov et al used the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database to compare survival outcomes for small solitary HCCs treated with thermal ablation versus surgical resection. Only cases with available Ishak fibrosis score were included in the analysis to account for the effect of cirrhosis. To reduce confounding, patients with metastatic disease, treatment other than ablation or surgery, both surgery and ablation, and liver transplantation were excluded. There were baseline differences in the ablation and surgery patients including a higher prevalence of fibrosis in the ablation group (higher Ishak scores) and smaller tumors in the ablation group (mean 2.6 cm versus 3.0 cm, p<0.001). For tumors ≤2 cm (ablation = 264; resection = 79) and tumors between 2.1 and 4 cm (ablation = 335; resection = 209), there was no significant difference in observed or disease-specific survival between ablation and surgical resection. For tumors between 4.1 and 5 cm (ablation = 46; resection = 66), there was a significantly longer observed and disease-specific survival for surgical resection when stratified by presence of fibrosis (observed survival p=0.009, disease specific survival p=0.046). The 5-year observed survival was 72% (surgery) versus 29% (ablation) and disease-specific survival was 80% (surgery) versus 40% (ablation). Notably, the difference in disease-specific survival was not clinically significant by Cox regression with fibrosis covariate (p=0.145). When all tumors ≤4 cm were pooled, there was again no difference in survival outcomes between ablation and surgical resection. Significant predictive factors for observed and disease-specific survival by Cox model included tumor size and degree of fibrosis.


Percutaneous ablation is maturing as an important part of the treatment armamentarium for HCC. The relative efficacy of ablation techniques compared to surgery remains controversial and current guidelines from the Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) recommend ablation only for patients who are not surgical candidates. These recommendations are derived from a very limited evidence base, with only one prospective study demonstrating superior outcomes after surgery. The SEER registry offers a powerful resource to answer these questions, affording a large patient sample from diverse medical institutions and detailed survival outcome data. The authors of this paper effectively identified potential confounders including patients who had received both treatments or went on to receive a liver transplant. The results of their study demonstrate equivalent survival outcomes in tumors <4 cm, which suggests that it would be reasonable to consider ablation as an alternative to surgery in this patient population. The results in the 4-5 cm tumor group demonstrated superiority of surgery, reflecting limitations of ablation in larger tumor sizes. The SEER population included both patients who had been treated with radiofrequency and microwave ablation (and does not differentiate the two modalities), so it could not be determined in this study whether outcomes in these larger tumors may be superior with microwave. It is important to recognize limitations to the SEER data including lack of BCLC or Child-Pugh scores, performance status, or comorbidities, which may all be important contributors to survival. Nonetheless, this study serves as additional evidence that percutaneous ablation affords equivalent survival outcomes to surgery in HCC ≤4 cm and may help to further define the evolving role of ablation in the treatment of HCC patients.

Click here for abstract

Mironov O, Jaberi A, Kachura JR. Thermal Ablation versus Surgical Resection for the Treatment of Stage T1 Hepatocellular Carcinoma in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Database Population. J Vasc Interv Radiol 2017; 28:325-33.

Post Authors:
Jeffrey Forris Beecham Chick, MD, MPH, DABR
Assistant Professor of Vascular and Interventional Radiology
Vice Quality Assurance and Safety Officer
Venous Health Program Faculty
University of Michigan Health System
Michigan Medicine

James X. Chen, MD
Resident in Radiology
Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

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